Kate Voegele's enjoyed enough success to spin a young girl's head, but with her feet firmly planted by a Midwestern upbringing, she's managed to avoid the kind of pitfalls that dot the tabloids.
Signed to Interscope Records co-venture MySpace Records while only 19, she released her debut, "Don't Look Away," two years ago, and followed it this spring with "A Fine Mess." In the interim, she also scored a recurring role as aspiring singer/songwriter Mia Catalano on the prime-time TV drama "One Tree Hill."
Voegele was always creative, spending plenty of time in her school's art room. When she was 15, she had her father " a musician himself " show her a few chords. Almost immediately, she began writing songs and recording demos with his guidance.
Even as a young musician, it was enough to attract label interest, but Voegele remained unsigned, finishing high school and two years at Miami University (where she studied visual arts), before dropping out and moving to Los Angeles after finally signing a record deal.
But the West Coast whirlwind hasn't swept away this smart, headstrong singer.
"I can see how people get caught up in all this, because honestly, there's times when it really feels like an amusement park," she said. "You kind of get this false reality, if you get too wrapped up in it and you think that it's real life. It's never been appealing to me, the whole celebrity scene, because I'm not really somebody that wants people to look at me that way. When people are, 'Oh, my god, you're famous,' it's, 'No, I'm just a kid from Ohio.'"
Unlike many of her prefab and "American Idol" peers, Voegele was inspired by artists like Carly Simon, Carole King and Patty Griffin to be a serious songwriter. She didn't need help writing from people like Grammy-winning song machine The Matrix, nor did she want it. She was intent on finding success on her own merits, not her looks, youth or gender.
"That was definitely a challenge because when you're showcasing for record labels, and you're 15 years old and you're a pretty girl, people don't expect you to write your own music. They actually look at you suspiciously," she said. "Now it's really nice, because when you're 22 years old, people don't quite put that on you as much. People see you as a creative collaborator ,rather than just this packaged-up, bubblegum pop thing."
Voegele has spent the last few years growing into a young woman. Her new album features maturity as a consistent theme. Like Britney Spears " at least in this way " she wants listeners to know that she's not that innocent " a subject of the slinky piano ballad "Angel."
"In the entertainment world, if you aren't crazy, going to rehab and dancing on tables every single night or doing drugs and all kinds of ridiculous shit, then people think you're this untouchable angel. You're naive, innocent and all of this stuff," she said.
"That's something that I tried to say with this whole record: Let's stop trying to label people, especially young girls. People put all this pressure, especially on young girls, to either be one extreme or the other."
That's one of the lessons Voegele learned herself. As a youth who grew up in flyover country, she bought into many of the preconceptions the tabloids foster about Hollywood. So when she got a role on "One Tree Hill" with her natural acting ability (having never done anything beyond a high school musical), she was primed for a surprisingly pleasant awakening.
"Everybody is really cool and they're there for the right reasons, and that's really cool for me, because you sort of have this cynicism and then you put your foot in your mouth and you're like, 'Wow these people are actually super-cool,'" she said. "It makes me excited about working in this business, because you realize it's not all this crazy circus of sugarcoated superficiality."
Certainly not when there are inspired and self-confident, yet humble Midwesterners like Voegele on hand.
"I have to take it all with a grain of salt," she said. "You can't take it too seriously, because it's just the craziest little circle, but it's definitely fun."
Kate Voegele with Green River Ordinance perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S. Eastern. "Chris Parker